Courts Back Citizen Action vs. Gerrymandering
For American voters sick of politicians’ clinging to power through partisan gerrymandering of election districts and eager for more competitive districts that give voters more choice, two stunning court decisions in 2015 gave the green light to grass roots reforms and reformers are on the move.
For while partisan gerrymandering still operates in 39 states, it is broadly on the defensive – replaced by independent commissions or politically neutral bodies in ten states; targeted by grass roots reform movements in nine more states; challenged by lawsuits in six states; and completely outlawed by a voter referendum in Florida.
The most telling blow against the age-old game of partisan gerrymandering came in a surprising 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court affirming that the voters of Arizona had the right and the authority to create an independent redistricting commission to map Arizona’s Congressional districts, instead of leaving that to the legislature.
The court rejected a lawsuit filed by Arizona’s Republican-dominated legislature challenging the constitutional legitimacy of the independent redistricting commission, which was established by a referendum of Arizona voters in 2000. The legislature argued that it alone was given power by the U.S. Constitution to set the rules for elections. But the high court disagreed.
Writing for the 5-4 majority on June 29, 2015, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asserted that “the animating principle of our Constitution is that the people themselves are the originating source of all the powers of government.” In Arizona, the high court ruled, voters were exercising the state’s legislative power through a popular referendum authorized by the Arizona constitution.
Florida Court Throws Out Stacked Deck
Ten days later, in a parallel case, the Florida Supreme Court struck down the partisan gerrymandering of Florida’s congressional districts by the Republican-controlled legislature in 2012. In a 5-2 ruling, the court ordered that the maps and lines for eight congressional districts be redrawn within 100 days, forcing the legislature into special session.
In scathing language, the Florida high court approved a lower court’s finding that the legislature’s redistricting plan had been tainted by the “unconstitutional intent to favor the Republican Party and incumbent lawmakers.” The court found that Republican Party “operatives” and political consultants “did in fact conspire to manipulate and influence the redistricting process” in cahoots with GOP legislators.
In Florida as in Arizona, the groundwork for court decisions was laid by grass roots citizen action. In 2010, Florida voters adopted an amendment to the state constitution that barred the drawing of legislative district lines “with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or incumbent.”
In the teeth of that popular vote, the Florida legislature ignored the new constitutional mandate and, as e-mails and other documents later revealed, engaged in a blatantly partisan gerrymander. In protest, the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and other citizens’ groups filed suit and in July 2015, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the legislature’s action was tainted by “unconstitutional intent” and ordered redrawing of eight congressional districts.
Acting in October 2015 under the supreme court’s mandate, Circuit Judge Terry Lewis approved a new redistricting map that scrambles several previously “safe” pro-Republican congressional districts. Rejecting the GOP-controlled legislature’s third redistricting plan, Judge Lewis combined its remapping for north and central Florida with more radical changes proposed for south Florida by critics of GOP gerrymandering. In the wake of the gerrymander reform, political analysts expect Democrats to pick up two or three more seats in Florida’s congressional delegation, now numbering 17-10 in favor of Republicans.
Gerrymander Reform on the Move
In its Arizona decision, the U.S. Supreme Court highlighted the positive gains for American democracy achieved by nonpartisan independent commissions. These commissions, the court noted, had created “more competitive” congressional districts, giving voters more choice in elections, and had eliminated the long-standing “conflict of interest” of partisan legislators manipulating district lines to keep themselves in office.
As of now, seven states have instituted independent redistricting commissions – Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Ohio and Washington. In addition, Iowa uses a nonpartisan legislative services agency to redraw political districts every decade, while Hawaii and New Jersey have turned over redistricting to balanced bipartisan commissions with a court-appointed nonpartisan neutral chairman. And, of course, voters in Florida took the most targeted action to stop partisan gerrymandering by passing a state constitutional amendment that explicitly outlaws redistricting plans drawn “to favor or disfavor” one political party over the other.
More reform is on the way. Reform coalitions that reach across the political spectrum are on the move in nine states – Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oregon, Pennsylvania and South Dakota. In red states as well as blue, citizen groups and legislators are using gerrymander reform, like term limits, as a means to dislodge incumbent politicians from getting a perpetual lock on power.
Strong Medicine – The Top-Two Priority?
California, Washington State and Louisiana have gone a step further for voters, by establishing non-partisan primaries, which give voters maximum choice by opening up primary elections and abolishing party control. The so-called Top-Two Primary is the most open of all – more open than so-called “open” primaries, which let voters choose which party’s primary to vote in, but then restricting them to choose among that one party’s primary candidates.
In the Top-Two primary, there is no limit on voters’ choices. Citizens can v0te for any candidate, splitting their ticket if they wish, because all candidates, no matter what their party affiliation, run in one, non-partisan primary. For each office, the two candidates with the most votes – the Top-Two – advance to the general election.
The major virtue of this system, in an era when a small turnout in party primaries often determines the ultimate winner, is that independent voters and members of minority parties now get to vote in what is often the decisive election. That helps to boost voter turnout and restore the political middle, proponents argue. Moderate candidates, with poor chances in a closed party primary, do much better in the Top-Two, where candidates need to appeal across party lines to all voters and thus move toward the political center.
The record in Washington State supports that argument. Since 2008, when Washington began using the Top-Two Primary, voting by the state’s delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives has become more moderate. Voter turnout jumped from 2006 to 2010 and in subsequent elections, the Top-Two Primary enabled some moderate candidates in both major parties to win seats in Congress.
Taking Gerrymandering to Court
In seven states where partisan gerrymandering is most entrenched – Alabama, Florida, Maryland, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin – it is being sharply challenged in court. In Maryland, Democrats are on the defensive, but elsewhere Republican legislatures are the ones being accused of illegally disenfranchising or marginalizing large groups of black or Latino voters.
Typically, the targets of these lawsuits are ludicrously shaped districts where lawmakers have packed masses of opposition voters, usually minority voters, for partisan advantage in neighboring districts. In North Carolina, Republican lawmakers packed the black sections of Durham, Greensboro, and Charlotte, into one 120-mile long district along I-85 that looks like a jagged falling tree branch. The Virginia GOP created a wiggly worm district down I-64 to include the black parts of Richmond, Norfolk and Virginia Beach. Florida Republicans created a snake-like district from Jacksonville down to Orlando. In Maryland, Democrats concocted a winning district that that looks like a weird stick drawing of a long-legged bird.
The case against Alabama, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia seeks to expose an implicit deal struck by Republican legislatures with black Democrats. By packing as many minority residents as possible into one or two districts, the legislature assures easy election for black or Latino Democratic incumbents, but also sets up safe Republican districts next door.
The legislatures contend that they have been trying to meet requirements of the 1965 Voting Rights Act to give minority voters a chance for representation in Congress. But their foes argue that Republicans have overdone it and in the process diminished the political rights of minorities in multiple districts.
For three years, these cases have laboriously worked their way through the courts, but in mid=2015, the U.S. Supreme Court sent cases back to Alabama and North Carolina for action by lower courts, throwing its weight behind the need for some correction for racial gerrymandering. And in Florida, the state’s supreme court ordered that congressional district lines be redrawn in time for the 2016 elections.
Gerrymandering – Is Your State Doing Anything?
- Aug. 10, 2012 – Alabama’s Legislative Black Caucus and other black Alabama office holders file a lawsuit in federal court to try to block implementation of new legislative redistricting plans, claiming they “dilute minority voting strength, violate the principle of “one person, one vote” and illegally split Alabama counties among multiple legislative districts.”
- Dec. 2013 – A three-judge panel rules 2 to 1 that the 2012 redistricting process was constitutional, but the ruling is appealed.
- March 25, 2015 – In a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court rules in favor of the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus and the Alabama Democratic Conference and refers the case back to the district court for correction. The Supreme Court majority, the four liberals joined by conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy, rules that the Alabama Legislature had relied too heavily on race in its 2012 redistricting plan and put too high a concentration of black voters in some districts. Justice Stephen G. Breyer, writing for the majority, states the lower court, in deciding on whether there was racial gerrymandering, should have looked at individual districts rather than statewide and should have used a different test in deciding whether the redistricting was done in conformity with the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
- Aug. 25, 2015 – A three-judge federal court today asks plaintiffs who claim Alabama’s legislative districts are racially gerrymandered to develop new maps for the state’s 140 legislative districts that would strike a balance between protecting majority black districts and yet not using race as the predominant factor. Over objections from Alabama’s solicitor general, the judges indicate that some changes would be required. “I think you need to assume there is going to be some remedy here,” said District Judge Keith Watkins.
- Jan 20, 2017 – A federal appeals court rules that Alabama’s Republican-run legislature violated U.S. Constitution by trying to preserve Republican supermajority in legislature through illegal racial gerrymandering in at least 12 districts. The court decision is a big win for the state’s Legislative Black Caucus, which for years has been fighting against the state’s election district maps, which have intentionally limited the voting power of African Americans by packing them into a few oddly-shaped districts. The court found that the mapping of these districts, all currently represented by Democrats and 10 of them by Black Democrats, was based “predominantly” on race. It ordered Alabama to redraw its voting maps before the next election in 2018. Rep Craig Ford, leader of the statehouse Democrats, urged Alabama to use this situation to replace its current system of partisan gerrymandering by the legislature with an independent trans-partisan commission.
- Nov. 3, 1998 – A 52% majority of Alaska’s voters, adopting for the first time an independent redistricting commission, approve a state constitutional amendment to establish the Alaska Reapportionment Board to draw boundaries for state house and senate districts. (Alaska has only one Congressional district.) All five members of the independent commission must be chosen without regard to party affiliation and none may be public officials or employees when appointed to the commission. The Governor chooses two commissioners, the state Senate and House majority leaders each choose one, and the Chief Justice of the Alaska Supreme Court chooses one.
- Nov. 7, 2000 –By a majority of 56.1%, Arizona voters approve an amendment to the Arizona Constitution to create a five-member independent redistricting commission (AIRC) to map congressional and legislative districts. To deter partisan influence, Arizona’s amendment bars the use of political party registration, voting history data and residences of incumbents and other candidates in creating political districts. It excludes active partisan politicians by forbidding current or recent public officials, political candidates, or party officers from serving on the commission. The crucial balance of power on the commission is given to a political independent. To insulate the commission from party politics, the new system requires the commissioners to be chosen from a panel pre-selected by State Commission on Appellate Court Appointments with 25 nominees – 10 Democrats, 10 Republicans, and 5 independents. From that panel, four commission members are appointed by the majority and minority leaders of the Arizona’s two legislative chambers, and these four commissioners select the fifth member. The amendment specifies that politically “competitive districts” are favored so long as the districts are of equal population, geographically compact, contiguous, coincide roughly with census tracts, city or county boundaries, or natural geographic features.
- October 2001 – Arizona’s Independent Redistricting Commission, chaired by political independent Steven Lynn and with two Republican and two Democratic members, completes its first redistricting plan without controversy.
- Spring 2011 – By adding 1,261,585 people to its population since 2000, Arizona gains a ninth congressional seat, intensifying interest in redistricting for 2011.
- Oct. 4, 2011 – Arizona’s Independent Redistricting Commission completes its new congressional map, with four districts considered safe for Republicans, two safe for Democrats, and three highly competitive. The plan is approved by a 3-1 vote from AIRC Chair Colleen Mathis and two Democratic commissions. One Republican commissioner votes No; the other abstains.
- Nov. 1, 2011- With Tea Party and hard-line Republicans angrily claiming that Arizona’s new redistricting plan favors Democrats, Republican Governor Jan Brewer, orders impeachment and removal of the AIRC’s independent chair Colleen Mathis. In a straight party-line vote, the Arizona state Senate votes 21-6 to approve the governor’s action, as required by law. State law allows removal of a commissioner “for substantial neglect of duty, gross misconduct in office, or inability to discharge the duties of office.” Mathis files a legal appeal.
- Nov 17, 2011 – In a swift and unanimous 5-0 decision, Arizona Supreme Court rules that the governor’s firing of Mathis is illegal and orders that Mathis be reinstated as AIRC chair.
- June 6, 2012 – Arizona Legislature files suit in federal court, challenging the legitimacy of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. Its suit argues that the Elections Clause of U.S. Constitution states that “[t]he Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof” and that no other body can assume this function. Attorneys for the independent commission contend that in the popular referendum of 2000 establishing the Independent Redistricting Commission, the people of Arizona were exercising legislative power granted them by the Arizona constitution.
- Nov 6, 2012 – Under the AIRC redistricting plan, Democratic candidates win all three of the competitive congressional districts, giving Democrats a 5-4 edge over Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation. Republicans carry four safe GOP districts and Democrats carry their two safe districts.
- Feb. 2014 – A three-judge federal appeals court dismisses the Arizona legislature’s lawsuit against the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. The legislature appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court.
- Oct. 2, 2014 – U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear the Arizona case. Reform advocates fear the worst, reasoning that the Supreme Court would not have taken the case unless several justices were already prepared to overrule the appeals court decision. “If the Court strikes down Arizona voters’ right to create an independent redistricting commission as an alternative to the legislature drawing the maps, it will set a dangerous precedent that undermines Americans from using direct democracy to enact change when legislators refuse to do so,” asserted Kathay Feng, national redistricting director for Common Cause.
- March 2, 2015 – Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Arizona case with Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito sounding sympathetic to the Arizona legislature’s argument. Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer are more skeptical. The question mark is Justice Anthony Kennedy.
- June 29, 2015 – In a blow to partisan gerrymandering and a decision with sweeping implications for political reform across the U.S., the Supreme Court rules in favor of Arizona’s Independent Redistricting Commission. The court holds that Arizona’s voters were entitled to try to make process of drawing congressional districts less partisan by creating an independent commission. Writing for 5-4 majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg asserts that the Constitution’s reference to the “legislature” encompasses the concept of citizens exercising legislative power since the Arizona constitution granted that power to the electorate through popular referendums. “The animating principle of our Constitution,” Ginsburg wrote, “is that the people themselves are the originating source of all the powers of government.” Writing in dissent, Chief Justice Roberts asserted that cutting the legislature entirely of the redistricting process violated the Constitution. Justice Anthony Kennedy, casting the swing vote, is evidently swayed by personal experience as a voter and law professor in California, where he had seen citizen initiatives work to overcome the self-interested actions of the legislature.
- Jan. 21, 2016 – The Open and Honest Coalition, led by two former mayors of Phoenix, launches a drive for a popular vote to amend the Arizona constitution to replace the state’s party primaries with a single non-partisan primary, open to all voters, including independents. Candidates from all parties, plus political independents, would run in that one primary, with the two top vote-getters moving on to compete in the general election. John Opdyke, president of Open Primaries, says his group has donated $1 million to the citizen initiative and will work to raise another $13 million to back two measures – reform of the state’s party primary system and a companion measure to help expose dark money flowing into campaigns for state offices and congressional seats. Texas billionaire John Arnold is identified as primary donor to campaign.
April 30, 2016 – U.S. Supreme Court unanimously endorses legislative redistricting map drawn in 2011 by state’s independent redistricting commission, rejecting challenge by Republicans that the plan was biased in favor of Democrats. In 2009-10, Republicans held a 21-9 majority in state senate and 40-20 majority in the house. In 2012, after redistricting based on the 2010 census, GOP majorities fell to 17-13 in the senate and 36-24 in the house. Republicans said redistricting hurt them. Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the court, dismissed charge that commission had engaged in partisan redistricting. He credited commission with meeting legal requirements to protect rights of minority voters and if Republican voters were ‘likely” to be worse off, this “may well reflect the tendency of minority populations in Arizona … to vote disproportionately for Democrats.”
- Nov. 4, 2008 – In a historic move, California voters approve Proposition 11 (The Voters First Act), an initiative for a constitutional amendment that shifts the power to redraw the boundaries of state legislative districts and districts for the state Board of Equalization from the California legislature to a new 14-member Citizens Redistricting Commission—effective in 2011. Four previous efforts at similar reforms had failed in 1982, 1984, 1990, and 2005, but the push in 2008 earns the backing of Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. But the 2008 reform leaves the drawing of Congressional district lines in the hands of the legislature.
- June 8, 2010 – By a 54%-46% majority, California voters approve the Top-Two Primaries Act, an amendment to the state constitution requiring that all candidates for state political offices run in a single primary open to all registered voters, with the top-two vote-getters meeting in a runoff. A similar measure had failed in a popular vote in 2004. Proponents contend that by exposing all candidates to all voters, there is a greater chance that more moderate members will be elected to Congress and the California State Legislature.
- Nov. 2, 2010 – California voters pass Proposition 20, which expands the power of the state’s independent Redistricting Commission to draw congressional district boundaries as well as state legislative districts. Prop 20 is vigorously opposed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco and other congressional Democrats including 15-term Rep. Howard Berman of Los Angeles, both of whom want the Democratic-controlled state legislature to do congressional redistricting. But they are overcome by a powerful citizens movement sparked and heavily funded by Charles Munger Jr. (son of investment banker Charles Munger), who spent more than $12 million of his own money to pass Prop. 20.
- Aug. 15, 2011 – California’s new 14-member citizens redistricting commission completes redrawing of maps for the state’s 53 congressional districts and 120 legislative districts. Commission composed of five Democrats, five Republicans and four members from neither major party adopts district lines that redraw boundaries of old districts, merging some and inevitably pitting some members of same party against each other. Independent studies by the Public Policy Institute of California, the National Journal, and Ballotpedia find that California now has some of the most competitive districts in the nation.
- Nov 6, 2012 – California’s new redistricting plan and Top-Two Primary system pit same-party candidates against each other in nine of state’s 53 congressional districts, including seven races fought between two Democrats. There were also 19 same-party races in the state legislature, 12 rated as highly competitive. Political commentators see some candidates adopting less extreme positions and shifting toward more centrist voter appeal. “What we’ve noticed is candidates in California playing to a wider ideological audience as a result of the top-two primary, instead of tailoring their message to a very narrow base,” says David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report. Also, more than a dozen Republican candidates in contested races refuse to sign a traditional GOP pledge vowing no new taxes. But in the new Top-Two Primary, some candidates seem afraid of offending Democratic voters with a rigid anti-tax stance.
- Jan. 23, 2015 – The California Citizens Redistricting Commission (CRC), fearing that its own existence and authority is jeopardized by a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, files an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court supporting the Arizona commission.
- June 29, 2015 – The U. S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling rejecting the Arizona legislature’s legal challenge to that state’s independent redistricting commission, has the effect of also endorsing California’s citizen commission.
- Nov.18, 2015 – Bipartisan coalition led by former Governors Dick Lamm (D) and Bill Owens (R), former Colorado House Speakers Frank McNulty (R) and Mark Ferrandino (D), and current Senate Pro-tem President Ellen Roberts (R) file initiative calling for reform of congressional redistricting. In place of legislature, their plan would set up 12-member commission with four Republicans, four Democrats and four independents to draw congressional district lines. Commission would be required to conduct its business in open hearings and map-drawing to be done by non-partisan professional staff. Once plan is certified by Colorado secretary of state, coalition must gather 98,492 signatures to put reform initiative on ballot for November 2016.
- July 5 – Colorado Supreme Court bars bipartisan ballot initiative for gerrymander reform on technical grounds, saying that measure improperly combines reform of both legislative and congressional districts in one ballot measure, and they should have been dealt with in separate measures. The group End Gerrymandering Now, which had collected 50,000 of the 98,492 signatures needed to qualify for the 2016 ballot, vowed to be back with another effort in 2018. “We knew the status quo wouldn’t go quietly,” the campaign said in a statement. “The establishment has too much to lose if the people have a stronger voice.”
- June 6, 2013 – Delaware Senate passes bill to create 11-member independent redistricting commission to draw lines for state’s legislative districts (Delaware has only one congressional district). Democratic majority passes bill with straight 13-7 party-line vote. This is the tenth bill submitted to one or other house of Delaware legislature since 1995 calling for an independent redistricting commission.
- June 11, 2013 – With 25-18 Democratic majority, Delaware House leadership sends redistricting reform bill to House Administration Committee where it is killed by committee vote.
- Nov. 2, 2010 –By a 62% super-majority, Florida voters pass two “Fair District” constitutional amendments, measures 5 and 6, that outlaw partisan gerrymandering in both state legislative and congressional districts intended to kelp keep incumbents in office or favor one party over the other. The path to passage was steep. A citizens movement, led by the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and Fair Districts Florida, collected 1.7 million signatures on petitions to get the gerrymander reform initiatives on the ballot and then needed a 60% super-majority vote for adoption. The movement overcomes both these hurdles and then writes very specific legal standards into the state constitution mandating that “No apportionment plan or district shall be drawn with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent.”
- Feb. 9, 2012 – Republican legislature ignores constitutional amendment and adopts a partisan redistricting plan, concocted in secret to circumvent the new ban on gerrymandering. Masses of emails, documents and electronic district maps with code-names like Frankenstein, Sputnik and Schmedloff are disclosed in 2014 court hearings, exposing a clandestine plot by Republican legislative leaders con spiring with campaign consultants and strategists who sub rosa create congressional and state legislative maps to favor GOP candidates. The Republican operatives use seemingly independent citizens to submit these plans to the Republican-controlled state legislature to convey the appearance of political impartiality. Documents are forced into the open by a Florida circuit judge, citing the need to determine ”the intent” of Florida lawmakers in adopting the 2011 redistricting plans.
- Nov. 6, 2012 – Democratic candidates win nearly half the popular vote in Florida’s congressional races, but the GOP still wins 17 of the state’s 27 Congressional seats. By packing Florida’s snake-shaped 5th district with a super-majority of black voters, Republican gerrymandering concedes an easy victory to Rep. Corrine Brown (D), a member of the Congressional black caucus, but boosts the competitive edge of Republican candidates in surrounding districts.
- July 10, 2014 – Florida Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis, responding to a lawsuit by citizens groups including Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, rules the state’s 2012 congressional redistricting was unconstitutional. In his decision, Lewis writes, “Republican political consultants or operatives did in fact conspire to manipulate and influence the redistricting process. They made a mockery of the Legislature’s proclaimed transparency and open process of redistricting by doing all of this in the shadow of that process, utilizing the access it gave them to the decision makers, but going to great lengths to conceal from the public their plan and their participation in it.” Setting an August 15 deadline, Judge Lewis orders the state legislature to redraw the map for two congressional districts, the 5th (held by a Democrat) and the 10th (held by a Republican).
- Aug. 15, 2014 – In a rare summer special session, Florida legislators complete a hasty fix by shifting 368,000 voters in north and central Florida into new congressional districts and slightly redrawing the lines of seven districts. The Florida House and Senate vote for the revised map along party lines, though a few Jacksonville Democrats vote with Republicans to protect a heavy Democratic and black majority for 5th district Rep. Corrine Brown. Gerrymander experts say revisions are minor and do not alter GOP tilt. “A lot of furniture has been rearranged but it looks like the old house with the same rooms,” says Michael McDonald, political scientist and redistricting expert at the University of Florida.
- Aug. 25, 2014 – Judge Terry Lewis upholds legislature’s revisions to congressional districts but says they will not take effect until 2016 election. Judge Lewis rules that the original 2012 gerrymandered district lines, which he found unconstitutional in July, shall be used for the 2014 election because there is so little time left for campaigning.
- July 9, 2015 – In a stunning 5-2 decision, the Florida Supreme Court rejects political gerrymandering by state legislators and orders eight congressional districts redrawn within 100 days. The justices concur with Judge Lewis’s finding that a 2012 redistricting map drawn by the Republican-led legislature had been “tainted by unconstitutional intent to favor the Republican Party and incumbent lawmakers,” and that Republican “operatives” and political consultants “did in fact conspire to manipulate and influence the redistricting process.” Court ruling gives instructions to legislature on how to correct three districts around Miami, Tampa Bay, and in north Florida around Jacksonville, as proposed by citizens groups who filed the lawsuit. Although court’s orders directly affect only eight districts, specialists expect that more than half of Florida’s 27 congressional districts will be affected because redistricting is a jigsaw puzzle.
- August 2015 – Florida Senate leadership publicly admits that the senate violated the law by engaging in partisan gerrymander in 2011 and promises to comply with supreme court ruling. But in special legislative session to redraw senate district maps, senate and house cannot agree. They each submit wholly different plans for court review along with competing plans from attorneys for Common Cause and League of Women Voters.
- Oct. 9, 2015 – Judge Terry Lewis approves and sends to the Florida Supreme Court a new redistricting map for state’s 27 congressional districts that will make up to ten districts more competitive and that has the potential to unseat at least three sitting members of Congress. Judge Lewis accepts legislature’s revised district maps for north and central Florida, that complied with supreme court instructions. But judge rejects legislature’s maps for south Florida, substituting the more radical remapping proposed by the civic groups that filed anti-gerrymander lawsuit. Their plan, the judgee decides, “best complies” with the state supreme court’s directions. Some legislative leaders are disgruntled but challengers claim a “victory for the people Florida and for restoration of representative democracy.” Florida Supreme court approves redistricting plan on December 2.
- Dec, 30, 2015 – Circuit Court Judge George S. Reynolds III rejects legislature’s redistricting plan for state senate districts and adopts rival plan submitted by Common Cause and League of Women Voters. That plan will make more of state’s 40 senate districts competitive. The overall map is so altered that Republicans, who have dominated Florida legislature since 1990s and currently hold 26-14 Senate majority, go into 2016 elections facing 21 new senate districts that were carried by President Obama in 2012. Commenting on the potential impact of various court rulings on redistricting, University of Florida gerrymander expert Michael McDonald, says: “Expectations are that Democrats will probably win up to two, maybe three seats out of Congress above where they are currently at, and they may win maybe 3-4 more seats out of the (Florida) senate.”
- Jan. 15, 2016 – Florida Senate’s Republican leadership, after considering more court appeals, announces that it will no longer contest the court-ordered redistricting plan for the senate.
- 1968 – Hawaii’s independent redistricting commission, known simply as The Hawaii Commission, is created by a State Constitutional Convention, prompted by a 1965 U.S. district court order invalidating the state’s senate apportionment scheme as a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause. An amendment to Article IV of the Hawaii Constitution gives exclusive authority to an independent, bipartisan nine-member commission to determine congressional and legislative district boundaries with the proviso that no district may be drawn so as to unduly favor a person or political faction. Eight commission members are appointed by the legislative leaders of the majority and minority parties, four to each party. Those eight members choose the ninth, tie-breaking member, but if they deadlock, as often happens, the ninth member is chosen by the state supreme court. In 2011, the court named Victoria Marks, a retired judge and professional mediator.
- 1993 – Idaho Legislature passes SJR 105 that creates a constitutional citizen’s body, the Commission on Reapportionment, in charge of drawing the legislative and congressional districts in Idaho.
- Nov. 8, 1994 – By a 64% majority, Idaho voters adopt a constitutional amendment establishing an independent, bipartisan six-member commission to draw the maps of the state’s political districts. No commission member can have served as an elected official, legislative district representative, or state party officer for the past two years or can have been a registered lobbyist during the previous year. To maintain a bipartisan balance, one commission member is chosen by each of the following – majority and minority leaders of both houses of the state legislature and the chairs of the Republican and Democratic parties. Idaho law states that oddly-shaped districts are disfavored and the creation of bizarrely-shaped districts in order to string together voters of a particular race will be struck down by the courts if race was the predominant factor in creating the districts .
- May 1, 2014 – “Yes for Independent Maps,” a bipartisan civic action movement, submits petitions to the Illinois Secretary of State bearing 532,000 signatures of people calling for an end to partisan gerrymandering of legislative and congressional districts in Illinois. This proposal follows the Arizona model of an independent redistricting commission. The $3 million petition drive, backed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other wealthy donors, seeks to put on the November 2014 ballot a proposed amendment to the Illinois constitution that would set up an 11-member commission, independent of the legislature, to map political districts after each decennial census. Past efforts to overhaul gerrymandering in Illinois have failed, and the current effort faces formidable opposition from Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, the state Democratic Party chairman.
- June 27, 2014 – Cook County Circuit Judge Mary Mivka, ruling on a suit brought by House Speaker Michael Madigan, strikes down a proposed Illinois ballot initiative on redistricting reform submitted by “Yes for Independent Maps” on the technicality that its wording does not conform to narrow limitations imposed by the 1970 Illinois state constitution. By barring members of the independent redistricting commission form running for state offices for 10 years, Judge Mikva opines,the proposed amendment would impermissibly alter the qualifications for those state offices. But Judge Mikva adds: “A differently drafted redistricting initiative could be valid.” Petition movement is also beset by aggressive challenging of petition signatures by Michael Kasper, attorney for Speaker Madigan. Kasper mobilized an unprecedented line-by-line assault on all 35,000 pages of the petitions, challenging hundreds of thousands of individual signatures, many of which were gathered by part-time workers for an out-of-state political consulting firm. Leaders of the petition drive decided not to appeal the court ruling.
- April 28, 2015 – A coalition of Illinois business, clergy and civic leaders launches a new petition drive with a revised formula for creating a new independent commission to map the state’s political districts in place of the Illinois legislature. Former Chicago Tribune CEO Dennis FitzSimons, chairman of the new Independent Maps movement, announces that the group has altered wording of proposal that was found unconstitutional in 2014 and plans to raise more than $3 million to carry out a new petition drive. “This is a bipartisan issue of slanting the maps,” FitzSimons tells the media. “What we’re going after is not any individual or party. We’re going after the process. That’s what needs to be changed.” The group’s board members include former White House chief of staff Bill Daley, the Rev. Byron Brazier of Chicago’s Apostolic Church of God and former Playboy CEO Christie Hefner. FitzSimons donates $25,000 of his own money and as chairman of McCormick Foundaiton approves its donation of another $250,000.
Feb. 17, 2016-Independent Maps reports that it has gathered 510,000 signatures in its petition drive to put gerrymander reform on the November 2016 ballot for Illinois voters. Group releases a video showing both Republican President Ronald Reagan in 1988 and Democratic President Barack Obama in 2016 calling for an end to partisan gerrymandering. The Illinois reform plan calls for redistricting to be conducted by an 11-member commission selected through a complex process design to filter out any partisan tilt and mandated not to “intentionally or unduly discriminate against or intentionally unduly favor any political party, political group or particular person.”
- May 24, 2016 – Illinois State Board Election determines that Independent Maps meets requirement to put constitutional amendment on November 2016 ballot. By sampling petitions, Election Board finds that nearly 73% of the 563,974 petition signatures submitted were valid, nearly double the 290,216 required by law to place the amendment on the ballot.
- July 20, 2016 – A proposed ballot initiative to amend the Illinois constitution to strip the state legislature of its power to draw political district lines and give that task to an independent commission is ruled unconstitutional by a Cook County Circuit Court Judge. Handing a victory to Democratic House Speaker Madigan and a rebuff to reformers and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, Judge Diane Larsen finds that the ballot proposal violates the state constitution provision limiting the power of Illinois voters to making only “structural and procedural” changes to the Illinois General Assembly. Judge Larsen also rules that the ballot proposal violates the legal requirement that initiatives address only a single topic because this one covers remapping of both congressional and legislative districts. Independent Maps, which sponsored the initiative, vows an appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, in hopes of keeping the question on the Nov. 8 ballot.
- Aug. 25, 2016- Illinois Supreme Court issues decision blocking gerrymander reform initiative from appearing on November ballot. In 4-3 decision, high court finds that extremely strict wording of state constitution “imposes clear restrictions on the scope of permissible ballot initiatives” and severely limits issues that citizen initiatives can raise, excluding the gerrymander reform sought by a broad coalition of grass roots reformers over the past two years. Three dissenting justices excoriate court majority, asserting that “The Illinois constitution is meant to prevent tyranny, not to enshrine it.” Instead, the dissenters declare, the court majority has issued “nothing less than the nullification of a critical component of the Illinois Constitution of 1970” – the concept of the people’s sovereignty.
- Jan. 12, 2015 – Indiana’s legislative leaders introduce bill to study how to reform Indiana’s gerrymandering of political district lines. Similar legislation passed the Indiana House in 2014, but failed in the Senate. This time, Republican Senate President Pro-tem David Long and Republican House Speaker Bryan Bosma join with Democratic minority leaders Senator Timothy Lanane and Representative Scott Pelath, to con-sponsor reform bill. “We need to move on this discussion and I think this is the year to do that,” Senator Long tells the media. Critics have complained that gerrymandering by the Republican-dominated legislature in 2011 was so stacked in favor of incumbents that in 2014, 44 House seats were not even contested, a fairly typical pattern in recent elections. “I don’t think right now the way we do our redistricting has credibility with the public,” comments Senator Lanane. “People assume we draw squiggly lines for the part in power. It’s all about politics – not democracy. We need to change that perception and that reality.”
- May 4, 2015 – Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signs law calling for a bipartisan committee to study best way to reform Indiana’s redistricting system and whether it will require amendment to the state constitution, which authorizes legislature to do redistricting. With strong bipartisan backing, a reform bill setting up study committee passes by 153-95 in the House and 43-7 in the Senate. Governor and legislature were pushed to move by a broad reform movement – the Coalition for Independent Redistricting. Spearheaded by Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, the coalition also includes the Indiana Farmers Union, Central Indiana Jobs with Justice, ACLU Indiana, Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana, NAACP Indiana, Hoosier Environmental Council and others.
- Oct. 1, 2015 – Interim study committee on redistricting holds initial meeting, sets agenda, and fixes Dec. 1, 2016 as deadline for its final report, pushing redistricting issue beyond 2016 election,
- March 7, 2016: Democratic-controlled Lafayette City Council and the West Lafayette City Council, and the all-Republican Tippecanoe County Board of Commissioners unanimously pass resolutions urging Interim Committee on Redistricting to endorse the idea of a citizen-led redistricting commission in its final report. Previously Michigan city council endorsed resolution, promoted by League of Women Voters. The measure calls for a citizen commission to oversee redistricting of Indiana’s legislative and congressional districts, while respecting; one-vote, one person; Voting Rights Act of 1965, as well as mapping districts that are compact, contiguous and respect local communities of interest.
- 1980 – In a near unanimous vote, Iowa legislature passes House File 707 to take partisanship out of redistricting and to give responsibility for drafting redistricting plans to a nonpartisan state agency, the Legislative Services Agency. LSA, which is instructed by law not to consider party registration, past votes, or other political data, is tasked with formulating a complete redistricting plan for submission to the legislature without the involvement of any elected officials or politicians. Iowa law requires the districts be created on the basis of four criteria: equal population, contiguousness, compactness and respect for political subdivisions. “This puts the voter as the primary consideration,” says Ed Cook, the agency’s legal counsel. “The basic concept is if it’s a blind process, the result will be fair
- The Iowa legislature, which holds hearings on redistricting, can approve or reject the LSA staff’s congressional redistricting plans, but lawmakers cannot amend or alter the plan. If the LSA plan is rejected twice by lawmakers, the legislature can then amend or substitute for the third staff plan but must also win approval of the governor. In practice, Iowa’s four-member congressional delegation comes out evenly split – two Democrats and two Republicans – in 2014, reflecting the almost dead-even party registration. Iowa has more political independents than either Democrats or Republicans.
- Feb. 4, 2015 – Maryland’s Republican Gov. Larry Hogan calls for reform of the state’s partisan gerrymandering that independent experts have called the most stacked redistricting system in any state controlled by Democrats. “Gerrymandering is a form of political gamesmanship that stifles real political debate and deprives citizens of meaningful choices,” declares Hogan, a publicly financed underdog victor in the 2014 gubernatorial race. “Fair and competitive elections – and having checks and balances – make for a more vibrant and responsive citizen republic.” Hogan says his ultimate goal is to remove the legislature from redistricting and give that authority to an independent, bipartisan commission.
- June 24, 2015 – The conservative group Judicial Watch and several Maryland Republican voters file a lawsuit against state officials, charging that Maryland’s weird-shaped congressional districts are “unlawful” and must be redrawn to meet legal standards requiring compact districts. So bizarre is the zig-zag shape of Maryland’s third district that a federal judge once compared it to a “broken-winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate across the center of the state.” The Judicial Watch lawsuit also challenges the sixth district where the Democratic-run gerrymandering in 2011 added a large slice of the Democrat-heavy DC suburbs to what had been a Republican stronghold in western Maryland to try to dislodge 10-term Republican Congressman Roscoe Bartlett. In the end, Barlett does lose in 2012 to Democrat John Delaney. That gives Democrats a 7-1 majority in the state’s House delegation, though Democratic voters outnumber Republicans only 2-1.
- Maryland’s case has attracted legal interest because, if successful, it could have broad impact in other states. An attorney for Judicial Watch said the new lawsuit could succeed where two previous legal challenges failed because this case uses a different legal theory. “All the other claims have been partisan-based, in other words, based on classification, or the Equal Protection Clause that one group is being injured,” said attorney Robert Popper. But Judicial Watch argues that all voters are injured and bases its challenge to gerrymandering on objective measurements on whether districts are compact and contiguous, as required by law. Judicial Watch has produced a compactness scale that compares the area of the district with the length of the district’s perimeter, thus enabling a judge to use a mathaematical formula to force the state to redraw Congressional districts.
- Aug. 6, 2015 – Gov. Larry Hogan, naming an 11-member bipartisan commission to revamp, Maryland’s system of partisan gerrymandering, said he wants to press for a state constitutional amendment to change the process. Hogan’s plan for election reform wins immediate support from election reform advocates such as Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, but it is dismissed by Democrats who control the General Assembly.
- Dec. 8, 2015 – In surprise decision, U.S. Supreme overruled two lower courts, giving green light for Maryland man to proceed with unusual legal challenge against Democratic gerrymandering of congressional districts with the unprecedented argument that its violates his First Amendment rights and those of other Republican voters. Most challenges to partisan gerrymandering are based on equal protection clause of 14th Amendment, but in 2004 decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the swing vote in the high court, wrote that First Amendment could be used as basis of redistricting lawsuit if plaintiffs could show they were subject to “disfavored treatment” because of their political views. Not until case was brought by former federal worker, now law student Stephen Shapiro, had this legal strategy beenn attempted. Shapiro case now goes before three judge federal panel.
- March 19, 2002 – The Minnesota supreme court, forced to intervene by legislative gridlock, issues new maps for the Minnesota’s congressional and legislative districts. Following the 2000 census, the state legislature sought to carry out redistricting, but with control in the two houses divided between Democrats and Republicans, the legislature failed to reach any agreement on redistricting. That sends the issue to the courts.
- May 19, 2011 – Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed the redistricting maps drawn up by the Republican-dominated state legislature for Minnesota’s congressional and legislative districts. The Minnesota Supreme Court appointed a judicial panel to drawn the lines. the Panel issues its map on Feb. 21, 2012 and, according to The Almanac of American Politics, the new map “radically rearranged state legislative seats.”
- March 2015 – Fearing the loss of congressional seat after the 2020 census and a new gridlock over redistricting, Democratic and Republican lawmakers draft plan to create new five-member commission of retired state judges to create redistricting plan. Their proposal would allow the legislature to accept or reject but not modify, but if it rejects the first two proposals, it must accept third proposal. Plan authored by Democratic State Senator Kent Eken has backing of some Republican lawmakers and Secretary of State Steve Simon who argues that Minnesota should fix its redistricting system well before 2020 census kicks off new partisan battles over redistricting.
- April 13, 2016 – By a bipartisan 29-15 vote, Nebraska’s unicameral legislature adopts a redistricting reform bill designed to reduce partisan gerrymandering by setting up a nine-member bipartisan Independent Redistricting Citizens Advisory Commission to redraw maps for the state’s congressional, legislative and judicial districts. Reacting to sharp controversy over partisan redistricting by the Republican legislature in 2011, the new plan contains strong prohibitions that future redistricting plans “shall not deliberately or inappropriately” draw district lines “to favor any one individual, group, political party or incumbent officeholder.” To insulate redistricting from partisan influence of sitting politicians and party leaders, the Nebraska plan bars any state or local officeholder, party official or lobbyist from serving on the commission.When the first nine-member commission is set up in 2021, after the next census, the then-governor’s party would get five seats and the minority party, four seats. The commission’s redistricting plans would be subject to an up-or-down vote in the legislature and approval or veto by the governor. Rejection would send the process back to the independent commission for another try.
- Voting yes were 17 Republicans, 11 Democrats and one independent. All 15 “No” votes were cast by Republicans. The bill must now be signed by Gov. Pete Ricketts whose office was reported to have privately lobbied against the bill. Supporters mustered a 35-11 vote to shut down a filibuster by dissident Republicans. Its co-sponsors, Democrat Heath Mello and Republican John Murante said that the new plan “separates the maps from the politicians” and will create “more transparency and more confidence” in the redistricting process.
- April 18, 2016 – With time running out on the legislative session, Gov. Pete Ricketts vetoes gerrymander reform, contending that the plan violates Nebraska’s constitution, “which requires the Legislature to conduct legislative redistricting; not anyone else.” The 28,000-member Nebraska Education Association urges senators to override the veto. The bill’s Democratic co-sponsor, Senator Heath Mello says he’s “disappointed but not surprised.” Republican co-sponsor John Murante decides against trying for an override, but signals he’ll attempt reform in the next session. “The good news,” he said, “is that we have time to do so.”
- Nov. 1995 – New Jersey voters approve an amendment to the New Jersey Constitution to create the 13-member bipartisan New Jersey Redistricting Commission. To maintain a balance between the two parties, the majority and minority leaders of both houses of the state legislature and the heads of the two major political practices each appoint two commissioners. These twelve commissioners elect the 13th member but if unable to do so, as often happens, the chief justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court picks the 13th member. In practice, these have been professors from Rutgers and Princeton universities. The outcome in recent congressional elections has been a tie – 6 Democrats and 6 Republicans
- State legislative lines are drawn by a similar 11-member Apportionment Commission, in place since 1966. The chairs of the state’s two major political parties each choose five commissioners, and in practice the 11th tie-breaker member has been chosen by the New Jersey Supreme court. In a state with 33% registered Democratic voters, 20% Republicans, and 47% independents, The result has been a state legislature with a 3-2 advantage for Democrats, roughly reflecting the partisan alignment of voters- 33% Democrats, 20% Republicans and 47% independents
- March 2012- Santa Fe voters pass a charter amendment to create an Independent Citizens’ Redistricting Commission to draw maps for Santa Fe City Council districts. Previously, the City Council members drew their own districts, a practiced attacked as a political conflict of interest by reform advocates such as Common Cause. The new seven-member redistricting commission, to be appointed by the city clerk’s office, will be comprised of local residents who will hear input from local communities and work with residents to draw new district lines.
- Nov. 18, 2011-Contending that New York State’s redistricting system is” broken,” a bipartisan group of community leaders files suit asking a federal court to intervene and override the prolonged deadlock between Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state legislative leaders. After the 2010 census, New York state dropped form 29 to 27 congressional seats, setting off a political battle. Legislative leaders remapped congressional districts but Cuomo vowed to veto their plan. The governor proposed an independent commission but the legislature refused. In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs complain that the process “has stalled and threatens to throw the state’s 2012 elections into a quagmire, absent court intervention.”
- March 19, 2012 – A three-judge federal panel, deploring what it called the “unwelcome failure of state government,” imposes a court-drawn revision of New York’s Congressional districts. The plan, drafted by a magistrate judge aided by an academic expert, was adopted urgently by the three judges because candidates can start qualifying for party primaries within a week. The court plan dismantled a Hudson-Valley district represented by retiring Democrat Maurice Hinchey and another in Brooklyn-Queens represented by Republican Bob Turner who is running for the U.S. Senate. In their ruling the three federal judges noted that the magistrate judge had taken just two weeks to devise a plan that lawmakers “have been unable, or unwilling, to provide New York State voters in more than a year.”
- July 2013 – Three-judge panel of North Carolina superior court judges unanimously upholds the legislative redistricting plan adopted by Republican-dominated legislature in 2011. Panel concludes that although race was considered by state legislature in drawing district lines, that was done to comply with the 1965 federal Voting Rights Act. Groups challenging the redistricting plan, which gave great advantage to Republican candidates in 2012 congressional and legislative races, immediately appeal to the state supreme court, saying the lower court misinterpreted the Voting Rights Act.
- Dec. 19, 2014 – North Carolina Supreme Court affirms lower court ruling in favor of redistricting plan passed by Republican-dominated state legislature in 2011. Court says plan was constitutional, rejecting a legal challenge by coalition of organizations that contended the GOP mapping plan was racially gerrymandered. Plaintiffs vow to appeal to U.S. Supreme Court.
- April 20, 2015 – U.S. Supreme Court overturns North Carolina supreme court decision in redistricting case and sends case back to state court for further hearing. High court specifically directs the North Carolina court to re-hear the case “in light of Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama,” another case where U.S. Supreme Court in late March rejected a lower court ruling, saying that the lower court’s reasoning on racially oriented redistricting was “legally erroneous.” High court implies there are parallels with the North Carolina case, in which civil rights groups argue that Republican lawmakers drew districts after the 2010 census with the intent of marginalizing Democratic-leaning black voters.
- Feb. 5, 2016 – In a powerful ruling with implication for other states, a three-judge federal court rules unanimously that the 2011 Republican gerrymandering of North Carolina’s congressional districts was unconstitutional. Court majority determines that the state’s first and twelfth congressional districts were illegally packed with black voters and gives the state legislature a tight, two-week deadline to redraw district lines, potentially affecting adjacent districts, too. “There is strong evidence that race was the only nonnegotiable criterion and that traditional redistricting principles were subordinated to race,” writes 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Roger Gregory. In a concurring opinion, district judge Max Cogburn comments bluntly that “elections should be decided through a contest of issues, not skillful mapmaking” but “today, modern computer mapping allows for gerrymandering on steroids,” so that parties engage in “mapping their way to victory.”
- Feb.19- With its appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court denied, North Carolina legislature generates new partisan gerrymander of congressional districts aimed at assuring GOP 10-3 edge in House seats despite rough parity between Democrats and Republicans in popular votes statewide. “We live in North Carolina not North Korea, ” protests Democratic State Sen Josh Stein. “The voters should choose their representatives not the other way around.” New maps seemed destined for another court fight.
- Aug. 5, 2016 – Common Cause and voters from all 13 of North Carolina’s congressional districts file new lawsuit charging that Republican legislature’s court-ordered remapping of the state’s congressional districts in 2016 was “one of the worst partisan gerrymanders in modern American history” and asking federal courts to find this action unconstitutional. Previous suits have charged unconstitutional racial bias in North Carolina’s gerrymandering. But this suit alleges that voter rights are being unconstitutionally violated because “even if Democratic candidates earn a majority of the statewide vote, the (legislature’s redistricting) plan will enable Republican candidates to win ten of thirteen seats.” In 2012, the suit says, 51% of North Carolina voters cast ballots for Democratic congressional candidates, but Republicans won 9 of the state’s 13 seats, profiting unfairly from how they had drawn the district maps. In 2014, the suit adds, Democrats won 44% of the state’s congressional vote but elected only 23% of North Carolina’s House members (three of 13). The lawsuit, joined by the state’s Democratic party, quoted State Rep. David Lewis, Republican chair of the House redistricting committee, as stating: “We want to make clear that we … are going to use political data in drawing this map. It is to gain partisan advantage on the map….I want that criteria to be clearly stated and understood.”
- Aug. 11, 2016 – Federal appeals court panel strikes down 28 of North Carolina legislative districts – 19 in the house and 9 in the senate – as an “unconstitutional racial gerrymander” carried out by the Republican-led state legislature in 2011. Three appeals judges allow existing districts to be used for 2016 elections, fearing change at this late stage in campaign would disrupt election process. “Nonetheless,” asserts Judge James Wynn, writing the majority opinion, “plaintiffs and thousands of other North Carolina citizens have suffered several constitutional harms stemming” from legislature’s “creation of 28 districts racially gerrymandered in violation of equal protection clause” of 14th Amendment to U.S. Constitution.
- Sept. 22, 2016 – League of Women Voters and a dozen North Carolina Democrats file suit challenging partisan basis of state legislature’s gerrymander of congressional districts as unconstitutional because it denies Democrats equal protection of the laws. In could become a precedent-setting case, the lawsuit seeks to establish an empirical standard for defining an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander, based on an empirical standard – an arithmetic measure of the majority party’s forcing the opposition party to “waste” votes, thus denying voters equal weight or equal protection. Suit argues that the Republican legislature packed super-majorities of Democrats into a few districts – far more than needed to win – and simultaneously spread other Democrats among districts that Republican lawmakers mademadfe sure they would win, meaning a high percentage of wasted Democratic votes. Under the legal formula developed by University of Chicago Law Professor Nicholas Stephanopoulos and Eric McGhee of the Public Policy Institute of California, “A gerrymander is simply a district plan that results in one party wasting many more votes than its adversary.” The new suit contends that by this standard, the Republican-orchestrated gerrymander of 2011 had an extreme sed wasted votes – or “efficiency gaps” in 2012 and 2014 elections that “exhibited pro-Republican partisan biases larger than 25 percent— by far the worst in North Carolina’s modern history and at the far edge of the nationwide distribution.”
- Nov 30, 2016- Federal appeals court gives North Carolina legislature a deadline of March 15, 2017 to redraw the boundaries of 28 legislative districts that the judicial panel found unconstitutional last August. The court order mandates a special election in those 28 districts in November 2017, cutting short the terms of legislators elected from those districts. Although state legislative leaders had appealed the courtearlier ruling to the Supreme Court, the appeals panel agreed with more than 30 plaintiffs that the disputed district has illegally high concentrations of black and Latino voters.
- Dec. 4, 2014 – Ohio House of Representatives, by 80-4 bipartisan vote, passes proposal for new bipartisan panel to take over legislative redistricting from state’s General Assembly. With one of most gerrymandered systems in the U.S., Ohio voters saw Republicans snag 62 of 99 state house seats in 2011 even though Democratic legislative candidates won 51% of the popular vote, thanks to district maps drawn by the GOP-dominated legislature. The proposed seven-member commission would include governor, secretary of state, and state auditor plus four other commissioners, two named by majority and two by minority leaders in legislature. For redistricting plan to be effective for a decade, it would need approval of at least two members from each party; otherwise, it would apply for only four years and need to be redrawn. Usually the top state offices are held by same party, which often controls legislature, too. Currently, for example, the commission would have 5 Republicans and 2 Democrats. Although Ohio has had Democratic governors in recent years, Republicans have won governor’s office and control of legislature after each of last three censuses, in 1990, 2000, and 2010, thereby controlling redistricting process for both Congress and legislature.
- Dec 12, 2014 – Ohio Senate adopts an amended plan to amend the Ohio constitution to turn over legislative redistricting to a seven-member panel of politicians. The measure now goes to Ohio voters in the November 2015 election. This measure does not alter current procedure for congressional redistricting, now done by a five-member panel, subject to legislative approval. Historically, the panel has stacked districts in favor of incumbents. Critics charge that process cheats voters out of a genuine choice in elections. “In our current winner-take-all system, the voters lose, because the results are predetermined by the district map-makers,” said Catherine Turcer of Common Cause Ohio.
Nov. 3, 2015 – In a ground breaking referendum, a whopping 71% majority of Ohio voters approve the proposed constitutional amendment to create a seven-member bipartisan political commission to conduct remapping of state legislative districts. Reform activists immediately set their sights on their next target – reforming the mapping of Ohio’s 16 congressional districts. “Today’s win was an important first step, but it only got us half way there,” says Carrie Davis, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio. “We need to take these new anti-gerrymandering rules…to the General Assembly and extend them to congressional districts, which are even more gerrymandered.”
- April 6, 2016 – In his major annual address to legislature, Gov. John Kasich calls for reform of partisan gerrymandering of Ohio’s congressional districts, citing reform of legislative redistricting as a sound precedent. “Ideas and merits should be what wins elections, not gerrymandering,” Kasich declares to resounding applause. “When pure politics is what drives these kinds of decisions, the result is polarization and division. I think we’ve had enough of that. Gerrymandering needs to be on the dust bin of history.” But Kasich does not propose or endorse any specific reform plan. Bills introduced in Ohio legislature in 2015 remain buried in committees. Ohio’ s Constitutional Modernization Commission considers developing a reform proposal but action there is also stalled.
- Spring 2010- With Democrats dominant in Oregon state government, a group led by Kevin Mannix, former Republican candidate for governor, mounts a petition drive to put an initiative on 2010 Oregon ballot to create an independent legislative redistricting commission. But the group, Common Sense for Oregon, fails to collect enough signatures to quality their initiative. Similar effort fails in 2012. Redistricting in Oregon is carried out by the legislature or, if it fails to achieve agreement, by the Oregon secretary of state.
- June 4, 2015 – Governor Kate Brown, responding to grass roots pressures for more transparency in Oregon’s redistricting process, signs a bill require the legislature to hold 10 public hearings throughout the state of Oregon prior to the redrawing of congressional and legislative districts after the next decennial census in 2020. The move had been pushed through the legislature by a coalition of groups led by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause.
- Dec. 20, 2011 – The Republican-controlled Pennsylvania legislature approves a congressional redistricting plan, signed into law by Governor Tom Corbett, also a Republican. “The Plan ruthlessly sewed the state, particularly the Philadelphia suburbs into a crazy quilt,” writes the nonpartisan Almanac of American Politics, with parts of Democratic-leaning or competitive suburban counties splintered into different congressional districts for GOP partisan advantage.
- Jan. 25, 2012 – The Pennsylvania Supreme Court strikes down the legislative redistricting map adopted in 2011 by the state’s five-member Legislative Redistricting Commission, ruling that “the lines violated state constitutional requirements of compactness and adherence to the integrity of political subdivisions.” Responding to a dozen citizen lawsuits, the court orders the state’s Legislative Redistricting Commission to redraw the map. Chief Justice Ron Castille, writing the majority opinion, cites a lawsuit by Amanda Holt, a 29-year-old piano teacher from Allentown, who charged that that the official redistricting plan had unreasonably and illegally split up towns and cities. “The Holt plan is powerful evidence indeed,” writes Castille. “This powerful evidence, challenging the Final (official) Plan as a whole, suffices to show that the Final Plan is contrary to law.” The high court bars use of the 2011 redistricting plan in the 2012 elections, stating that the prior plan adopted in 2001 would apply.
- Nov. 6, 2012 – In the 2012 elections, Republican candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives win 75,870 fewer popular votes than Democratic candidates but Republicans win eight more House seats. In other words, Democrats won the popular vote statewide but the GOP gerrymander gave Republicans a lopsided 13-5 advantage in House seats. Democratic state Senator Daylin Leach, using the same voter figures, redraws the districts and devised a plan that results in a 13-5 Democratic House seat advantage, demonstrating huge impact of partisan gerrymandering.
- May 8, 2013 – Pennsylvania Supreme Court approves revised legislative redistricting plan presented by state’s official commission, though critics contend that it only modestly improved the defects in the original plan.
- March 31, 2015 – Thirteen Pennsylvania state senators, 12 Democrats and one Republican, propose amendment to state constitution to remove legislature and elected officials from the process of redistricting and create instead an independent, nine-member bipartisan commission with a nonpartisan chair.
- June 17, 2015 – Eleven lawmakers submit HB1344 calling for Pennsylvania to adopt a California-style independent commission to redistrict state’s congressional and legislative districts. Commission would be randomly selected from pool of qualified applicants, excluding officeholders. To replace the often contorted districts drawn in partisan gerrymandering maps, the legislation would require compact, contiguous districts.
- Nov. 3, 2015 – Democratic candidates swept all three races to fill vacant seats in the Pennsylvania supreme court, giving Democrats a 5-2 court majority for the first time in years. That new majority was seen as potentially important for future gerrymandering cases, given the court’s key decisions on recent legal challenges to district gerrymandering by the Republican-led state legislature.
- Dec. 24, 2015 – Citizens ballot initiative sponsored by South Dakota Farmers Union to reform partisan gerrymandering of state legislative districts is certified by Secretary of State for popular vote in November 2016 election. To qualify, farmers union and other citizens groups gathered 43,198 signatures, well above required minimum. State constitutional amendment calls for creation of nine-member commission comprised of three members each from two major parties plus three independents or members of minority parties. It would require majority of five votes for any redistricting plan, thus blocking any single party from dominating the process. Current or recent state and party officials are barred from serving on commission whose members are to be selected by State Elections Board from certified panels of ten Republicans, ten Democrats, and ten independents.
- Jan. 8, 2016 – South Dakota Secretary of State certifies ballot initiative to amend state constitution and establish a nonpartisan primary for all offices except President and Vice President. To put measure on November ballot, nonpartisan group TakeItBack.org submitted 44,095 signatures, well over required number of 27,714. The measure would allow independents to vote along with Republicans and Democrats, and it would eliminate party branding of candidates, who would be listed on ballot without any party label. Akin to the model used in Washington State, Louisiana and California, South Dakota would send the two top primary vote-getters for each office to compete in general election.
- Nov. 8, 2016 – In popular referendums, South Dakota voters reject ballot proposals for non-partisan primary elections and gerrymander reform. The gerrymander reform measure (Amendment T) proposed setting up an independent redistricting commission of three Republicans, three Democrats and three independent or minority party members to draw the lines of South Dakota’s legislative districts but voters turn it down 57% to 43%. The nonpartisan primary measure (Amendment V) would have given a vote to the roughly 115,000 independent voters currently barred from voting in GOP primaries in this heavily Republican state. The measure, rejected by a 55.5% majority, called for all candidates from all parties as wel and would have put all primary candidates on a single ballot with the top two vote getters competing in the general elections.
- July 2011 – With the Lone Star State showing a population increase of 4.3 million since 2000, Texas gains four more House seats, triggering a major new redistricting operation. Nearly 90 percent of the population growth comes among minority residents (65% Hispanic, 13% African-American, 10% Asian). Yet the Republican-dominated Texas legislature awards white Republicans three of the four new seats that resulted from growth among minority populations that normally lean Democratic.
- Sept. 19, 2011 – The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division asserts that Texas’s redistricting plans for the state house and for congressional districts do not comply with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) because they give too little voting power to the growing Latino population in Texas. In a court filing, Justice Department lawyers deny that the congressional district plan “maintains or increases the ability of minority voters to elect their candidate of choice in each district protected by Section 5.” The case is referred to a special three-judge panel in Washington.
- Aug. 28, 2012 – A federal court rules that Texas’s redistricting maps were “enacted with discriminatory purpose” and finds that Texas Republicans not only failed to grant new power to minority voters in the state, but also took away vital economic resources from minority Democratic members of Congress. “The Texas plan is by far the most extreme example of racial gerrymandering among all the redistricting proposals passed by lawmakers so far this year,” says Elisabeth MacNamara, president of the League of Women Voters. The federal court finds in effect that the Texas redistricting plan has “the purpose or effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group….” An interim map drawn by a federal court in San Antonio in February will be used for the 2012 election.
June 18, 2014 – Although Texas has made some minor modifications in its redistricting plan in 2013, a Texas federal court rejects the state’s effort to dismiss all lawsuits against its redistricting plans. The three-judge panel does throw out a gerrymandering complaint filed by the Texas Democratic Party, saying it is unclear how the gerrymander allegation can be judged objectively under Supreme Court rulings. But the federal court allows further arguments over whether the Texas redistricting plan drawn up in 2011 was racially discriminatory and would thus require Texas to submit any future election law changes to the Justice Department for clearance and approval.
- May 26, 2015 – The Supreme Court decides to take up a “one person, one vote” case originating from Texas and challenging use of total population in an area for delineating districts. Instead, suit argues, basis should be number of eligible voters in the area. In accepting the Texas case brought by Project on Fair Representation, a Washington-based conservative advocacy group, court will consider whether whole new basis should be used by states and localities for determining equality districts. Such a shift would have an enormous impact in a state like Texas, which has large numbers of non-citizen immigrants and children. It would, for example, greatly reduce the population count and political clout of Latinos. The court will schedule the case for the term beginning in October 2015.
- March 22, 2011- To encourage fair, nonpartisan redistricting, Virginia colleges and universities run a competition for student teams to draw maps for the state’s congressional and legislative districts. Fifty-five teams take part. The winning map from the University of Virginia meets legal requirements for compact, contiguous districts generally adhering to boundaries of cities and counties, and it also produces election outcomes that reflect the popular strength of the two major parties. With Virginia voters splitting 42% for Republicans, 40% for Democrats and 18% independents, the UVA team’s plan produces a 6-5 split favoring Republicans, that is, six districts with majority of Republican voters, five districts with majority of Democratic voters. It also makes 6 of Virginia’s 11 districts competitive, giving greater choice to voters. The UVA team contends that its plan is a significant improvement over the gerrymandered plan drawn by the state legislature in 2001, “thereby demonstrating that it is not only possible but preferable to draw U.S. House districts in a fair and non-partisan manner.”
- April 2, 2011 – Virginia legislature adopts a highly gerrymandered redistricting plan worked out in secret and tilted strongly in favor of Republicans and incumbents. The governor’s 11-member advisory commission on redistricting is ignored. Fewer than 10 of Virginia’s 140 state legislators are privy to districting maps until they are made public. District lines are largely drawn by two men: State Senator Sen. George L. Barker, a Democrat from Prince William County, and Rep. S. Chris Jones, a Republican from Suffolk County. “It’s horrific,” says C. Douglas Smith, Chair of the Virginia Redistricting Coalition. “Redistricting has always happened with only a few people knowing. It shouldn’t surprise us, but should disappoint us.” Although governor’s advisory commission was supposed to “solicit public input and recommend congressional and state legislative districts to the legislature,” it did not have time to look into the student redistricting plans.
- Jan. 25, 2012 – After approval by the House of Delegates and the Virginia Senate, Gov. Bob McDonnell signs into law a congressional redistricting plan that essentially cements the GOP’s advantage in winning 8 House seats to 3 for Democrats (even though Democrats now nearly equal Republicans in voter registration), plus a 2-1 Republican majority in the state House of Delegates.
- Oct. 7, 2014 – A panel of federal judges declares Virginia’s congressional mapping unconstitutional because Virginia plan packs too many African American voters into the 3rd congressional district, reducing influence of black voters in nearby districts. The court majority, citing comments of former Virginia Delegate Bill Janies, a prominent backer of the plan, finds that race was the predominant factor in drawing district boundaries. The court leaves existing districts intact for November 2014 election, but orders the Virginia General Assembly to draw new congressional maps by April 1, 2015 for the 2016 elections. The Virginia legislature appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court.
- March 30, 2015 – The Supreme Court, without comment, sends Virginia redistricting case back to the federal appeals court for further hearing.
- June 5, 2015 – A three-judge federal appeals court panel again rules that Virginia legislators packed too many black voters into one congressional district in order to make adjacent districts safer for Republicans. The 2-to-1 ruling directs the Virginia General Assembly to draw new boundaries by September 1 for the 3rd congressional district. In its 2011 redistricting plan, Republican-controlled legislature increased 3rd district’s black voting-age population to 56.3% from 53.1%, creating an odd-shaped district that snakes from Richmond to Hampton Roads, composed of “a disparate chain of communities, predominantly African-American, loosely connected by the James River,” writes Judge Allyson Duncan, a Bush appointee.
- Oct. 7, 2015 – Virginia’s Republican members of Congress make stunning admission that in 2011, GOP-dominated state legislature intentionally stacked congressional district maps to insure Republicans a lopsided 8-3 congressional seat advantage in 2012 elections. The legislature’s “overarching priorities” in redistricting, their court brief asserts, was “incumbency protection and preservation of cores to maintain the 8-3 partition division established in the 2010 election.” Defying court order to redraw 3rd congressional district, Republican lawmakers contend that federal courts must retain GOP’s 8-3 advantage and allow partisan gerrymandering.
- Jan. 7, 2016 – A three-judge federal panel, frustrated by the defiance of Virginia’s Republican-led legislature, imposes its own remapping of five Virginia congressional districts. In 2-1 ruling, court creates a second district favorable to black candidates. It reduces percentage of black voting-age population in snake-shaped 3rd congressional district, held by Robert C. Scott, a black Democrat, from 56.3% to 45.3% and simultaneously increases eligible black electorate in the 4th district from 31.3% to 40.9%, making that district possible for a black candidate to win. Veteran black Democratic legislator, State Senator A. Donald McEachin, quickly files to run in the new 4th district. Incumbent Republican Randy Forbes says he’ll quit the 4th district and run in the remapped 2nd district. Three Republican congressmen appeal to the Supreme Court.
- March 21, 2016 – Hearing appeal on Virginia’s racial gerrymandering lawsuit, Supreme Court justices seem to favor lower court ruling that overturned Republican gerrymandering and redrew maps for five congressional districts. Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the swing vote, questioned whether GOP-dominated legislature had packed the 3rd congressional district with black voters in order to reduce the typically Democratic black vote in adjacent districts and generate Republican winners.
- May 23, 2016 – Supreme Court unanimously dismisses appeal from three Republican members of Congress to overturn a lower court’s redistricting for Virginia. Lower court had rejected racial gerrymandering by Virginia legislature. Rep Randy Forbes, R-VA, contended court plan would “completely transform” his district to the advantage of black voters and Democratic candidates. Supreme Court says three congressman lacked judicial standing and failed to produce evidence that they had been unfairly harmed.
- Nov. 8, 2016 – In wake of court-ordered remapping of Virginia’s congressional districts, former State Senator A. Donald McEachin wins 4th Congressional district seat, giving Democrats four of Virginia’s 11 seats in Congress, two of them now held by blacks.
Feb.1, 2017 – Despite court-ordered easing of Virginia’s partisan gerrymandering, Republican majority in Virginia General Assembly digs in against gerrymander reform. With a single 4-3 negative vote in the Constitutional Subcommittee, GOP kills five proposals for redistricting reform, including one offered by Republican Delegate Steve Landes. His proposal calls for a state constitutional amendment that would prohibit the drawing of any political district “for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring any political party, incumbent legislator, member of congress, or other individual or entity.” The Republican tactic prompts House reform advocates to call on Speaker William Howell to allow a floor vote on gerrymander reform. “Gerrymandering has distorted election results and diluted the power of individual voters,” charges Del. Charniele Herring, chair of the House Democratic Caucus. “We need a full floor vote on a redistricting amendment now.”
- Nov. 8, 1983 – By a 61% majority, Washington state voters approve a ballot measure to amend the state Constitution instituting an independent redistricting commission, with two members each from the major parties and a non-voting, nonpartisan chair.
- Nov. 4, 2004 – Majority of voters in Washington State approve Initiative 872 adopting a Top-Two Primary election system, and after the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the Top-Two Primary in March 2008, Washington State voters use this system for the first time in 2008. Its purpose is not to select party nominees, but to identify the top-two vote-getters, regardless of party. Under the Top-Two system, all candidates are listed together on a single nonpartisan ballot, and two candidates who receive the most votes proceed to the general election, even if they come from same party or include a third-party candidate.
- Top-Two system differs from a closed primary, which restricts participation in the primary to registered party members; and from an open primary, which is open to all voters, independents as well as party members, but which requires voters to choose one party or the other and then only allows them to vote for candidates form that party. The Top-Two system permits voters to split their ticket, voting for candidates of different parties for different posts. This system goes the furthest in minimizing the influence of political parties because parties not only lack control over which voters participate in the primary, but also which candidates are listed on the ballot. (National Conference of State Legislatures 2014).
- Nov. 2, 2010 – Under Washington State’s new Top-Two Primary system, voter turnout rises an average of 8% from turnout in congressional races in previous mid-term election in 2006, lending support to contention that Top-Two system encourages more voters by including political independents and minority party voters, who are shut out of closed party primaries.
- Feb. 7, 2012- Washington state legislature passes a “slightly amended” version of the redistricting plan drawn up by the state’s independent redistricting commission. The 2012 plan is important because Washington State has gained an additional Congressional seat. In a state where registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans by 45% to 37% (independents and small parties are 18%), the new district maps result in Democrats’ picking up one more seat, to enjoy a 6-4 advantage in the state’s delegation to the House of Representatives.
- Nov. 6, 2012 and Nov 4, 2014 – In 2012 election, moderate Democrat Susan DelBene beats out more liberal Democrats in district 1,with her centrist appeal. In 2014 election, moderate Republican Dan Newhouse runs second to a Tea Party conservative in the primary, but qualifies for the general election and then wins the seat in district 4. These two case demonstrate how more moderate candidates fare better in Top-Two Primary system.
- Aug. 9, 2011 – Gov. Scott Walker signs partisan redistricting plan drafted in secret by Republican legislature, moving hastily to get Republican plans cast into law before state Senate recall elections could upset GOP majority. Wisconsin had been targeted by REDMAP, national GOP redistricting strategy to gain control of state governments in swing states. In 2010, Wisconsin Republicans win governorship and majorities in both legislative houses and then pounce on the opportunity to dominate redistricting in Wisconsin. They move stealthily. They not only have private law firms draw up new district boundaries behind closed doors but make GOP legislators sign secrecy oaths before they can view their own redrawn districts. The new maps bring immediate lawsuits, as well as pointed rebukes from judges protesting the law firms’ frivolous motions and withholding of evidence. One suit decries the disenfranchisement of more than 300,000 voters who would have to wait six years to vote for their state senator instead of the usual four years. Another suit charges that the plan dilutes Latino voting power.
- March 22, 2012 – A panel of three judges rules unanimously that the 2011 redistricting plan drawn by Republican legislators violates the voting rights of Latinos in Milwaukee’s south side and orders that lines be redrawn for two state assembly districts, Districts #8 and #9. The judges, two appointed by Republican presidents and one appointed by a Democrat, assert that the maps were clearly motivated by partisanship and do not match the almost-even voter registration of Republicans and Democrats in Wisconsin. “Regrettably, like many other states, Wisconsin chose a sharply partisan methodology that has cost the state in dollars ($2.1 million), time and civility,” the court writes. It says the GOP plan “was needlessly secret, regrettably excluding input from the overwhelming majority of Wisconsin citizens, and … needlessly moved more than a million Wisconsinites and disrupted their long-standing political relationships…”
- April 11, 2012 – The three-judge federal panel revises the district boundaries of two Milwaukee area legislative districts to remedy defects that the court had cited earlier. Otherwise, it allows the Republican redistricting plan to stand.
- Nov. 2012 – Republican REDMAP gerrymandering strategy pays off big-time for Republicans. Even though Democratic candidates won more votes in House races (50.3% to 49%), Republicans came away with five House seats to three for Democrats. Before the Republican gerrymandering of 2011, Democrats had a 5-3 edge in House seats. In the 2012 election, Wisconsin was one of four states where Republicans lost the popular vote but won more House seats. The others were Michigan, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina.
- April and May 2013 – Two bipartisan reform bills (AB 185 and SB 163) introduced in the Legislature, seek to strip the task of redistricting from politicians and give it to the Legislative Reference Bureau—emulating the system of neighboring Iowa, where nonpartisans taff agency does redistricting. The bills are supported by Common Cause in Wisconsin, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign and a host of media outlets.
- May 15, 2013 – Groups suing Wisconsin state in redistricting case find that lawfirm that advised Republican destroyed numerous documents and failed to turn over vital materials in case. Plaintiffs and law firm reach out-of-court settlement.
- June 3, 2013 – Three federal judges scold Republicans for drawing election maps in secret and hint regulators may want to investigate why subpoenaed documents were withheld from groups that sued the state. “We cannot help but conclude that the people of Wisconsin deserve better in the next round of redistricting after the 2020 census,” the judges wrote.
- April 8, 2014 – Legislation for setting up independent redistricting commission in Wisconsin is voted down by Republican-dominated legislature that engaged in heavily partisan gerrymander plan of 2011.
- July 8, 2015 – Wisconsin Fair Elections Project, a bipartisan group co-chaired by former state Senate Majority Leaders, Republican Dale Schultz and Democrat Tim Cullen, and 12 voters file suit, charging that the 2011 Republican redistricting plan for state legislative districts violates their constitutional rights and constitutes one of the “worst partisan gerrymanders in modern American history.” The suit includes two expert reports asserting that the gerrymander in Wisconsin is extreme and far outside Constitutional norms, and proposes a clear standard for the courts. It asserts that in the 2012 election, the 2011 Republican redistricting plan enabled GOP candidates to win 60 of 99 seats in the state Assembly, even though Democratic candidates won a majority of the statewide Assembly vote.“This kind of partisan gerrymandering is both unconstitutional and profoundly undemocratic,” the lawsuit asserts. “It is unconstitutional because it treats voters unequally, diluting their voting power based on their political beliefs, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection, and because it unreasonably burdens their First Amendment rights of association and free speech.”
- Dec. 17, 2015 – Three-judge federal court panel rejects Wisconsin attorney general’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit challenging partisan gerrymandering of state legislative districts by Republican-dominated legislature in 2011. Court sets hearing date in May 2016.
- Nov. 21, 2016 – In a potentially precedent-setting decision, a three-judge federal district court rules that the Wisconsin legislature engaged in unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering intended to favor Republican candidates when it drew the lines for the state’s legislative districts in 2011. Typically, when federal courts have overturned state gerrymandering of congressional or legislative districts, they have ruled on the basis of unconstitutional racial bias against black or minority voters. But in this decision, a 2-1 court majority held that the 2011 redistricting by the Republican-dominated state legislature and GOP Gov. Scott Walker deprived Democratic voters of equal protection under the laws, as required by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. It ordered the governor and legislature to redraw legislative district maps by Nov 1, 2017, with the new maps to be used in the 2018 election cycle.
- Heather Gerken, a Yale law professor who specializes in election law, told The New York Times that the Wisconsin decision was “a huge deal. For years, everyone has waited for the Supreme Court to render to do something on this front. Now, one of the lower courts has jump-started the debate.” The Wisconsin ruling can be appealed directly to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has said in the past that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional but has been unable to set a standard for defining what is unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering.
- The Wisconsin case broke new ground on that crucial point. It was argued and decided on the basis of a mathematical formula, which examines whether electoral districts are competitive giving voters true choice and whether victory margins are narrow, or whether the majority party, drawing the maps, has packed excessive numbers of the opposite party, in this case the Democrats, into a few districts, where they win by large majorities, and thus “waste” votes, while the majority party sets itself up to win many more districts by slim margins. By this standard, an efficient or fair redistricting plan has relatively few wasted votes and a highly partisan gerrymandering has many more wasted votes. In examining four decades of state redistricting plans, the court concluded that if more than 7% of votes were wasted, that signaled a partisan gerrymander. In Wisconsin, experts testified the ratio of wasted voters after the 2011 Wisconsin gerrymander ranged as high as 13%.